ART TAIPEI 2022: Why do we collect?

Oct 31, 2022 10:46AM

Why do we collect? From two recent Taiwan art history exhibitions to ART TAIPEI, by SHOINMACHI5

In recent years, the global art market has experienced quite turbulent conflicts and transformations, including Covid-19 restricting the flow of artworks and physical display, the emergence of NFTs bringing new production and business models, the rise of young collectors, and the popularity of social media and its effects on auction behavior. Looking at ART TAIPEI 2021, these factors were all involved. They added uncertainty to the event and led to wide-ranging discussions.

Among them, the variations in collector groups and collection patterns echoed the drastic changes in contemporary technology and social morphology and affected the artistic values of the past. However, while competing for popularity in the global art circle, one might as well rethink the evolution and historical context of Taiwan's "collection" behavior. This article used the research results of recent Taiwan art history exhibitions as its central context and briefly compared it with the development of ART TAIPEI.

ART TAIPEI 2021 led to wide-ranging discussions on various online and offline trending topics

The circulation of official collections during the Japanese occupation period

As far as the existing historical materials and images are concerned, it can be seen that the collection of calligraphy and painting already existed in Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty. Families, such as the Lin family in Banqiao, Taipei, and the Zheng family in Hsinchu, all built relations with calligraphers and painters who relocated to Taiwan and collected their works. During the Japanese occupation period, Japanese artists who came to Taiwan to travel and work brought brand-new art concepts. Modern Japanese paintings, Western paintings, Japanese Nan Hua style paintings, and sculptures were transplanted to Taiwan in the form of objects or conceptual education. The bureaucracy headed by the Governor's Office encouraged creation by purchasing works and using them to decorate the spaces of official buildings.

In 2021, the lost masterpiece Kam Loo Shui (Nectar Dew), made by Taiwanese sculptor Tu-Shui Huang, reappeared before the eyes of the world and was exhibited at Light: Enlightenment and Consciousness of Taiwanese Culture in the Museum of NTUS. Tu-Shui Huang was active during the Japanese occupation period. In 1919, Huang went to Japan to study sculpture, and Kam Loo Shui was selected to exhibit in the Teiten (the predecessor of the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition). In 1930, Tu-Shui Huang passed away. After discussions, his relatives, friends, and teachers decided to donate Kam Loo Shui to the Taiwan Education Hall (now the National 228 Memorial Museum).

As revealed by numerous articles, Kam Loo Shui experienced a turbulent fate in the post-war period and was even abandoned at Taichung Railway Station at one point, and then disappeared from the public eye for decades. This phenomenon reflected the improper handling of public property and official collections when there was a handover of the regime. However, it cannot be denied that during the Japanese occupation period when art galleries and art schools had not been established, government buildings such as the Governor's Office did play a role in art patronage and collection. For example, during the Japanese occupation period, the Taiwan Education Hall was managed by the Education Association and sponsored by the public-land leasing group. It not only undertook Taiwan and government exhibitions every year but also purchased some of the works after the exhibition to encourage painters to continue art creation. Although one could suspect them of colonial governance and other similar reasons driving their actions, it did indeed effectively promote the development of Taiwanese art.

Pre-War and Post-War art patronage by citizens

In addition to the colonial government, during the Japanese occupation period, landowners and capitalists also acted as leaders; they had a passion for collecting art as well. As the contemporary scholar, Wakabayashi Masahiro, referred to them as "the local landlord and bourgeoisie of Han descent in Taiwan," these people regarded collecting and financially assisting Taiwanese art as an expression of nationalism. For example, the Taichung gentry and social activist, Chao-Chia Yang, once said, "I don't want to see only people of foreign races appreciating arts. I want the Taiwanese to be able to match the Japanese." For them, "collection" was not just artistic appreciation and the need to decorate a space; it was a display of soft power in terms of national cultural movements.

East Gallery, one of the initial founding members of the Taiwan Art Gallery Association in 1992, displayed the works of Tu-Shui Huang at ART TAIPEI 2021

In 2021, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan held the exhibition Progressive Era—A Century of Artistic Power of the Taichung Cultural Association to organize and sort through the collection and patronage behaviors of the landowners and bourgeoisie in Central Taiwan, such as Chao-Chia Yang and Hsien-Tang Lin, from the Japanese occupation to the early post-war period. Based on the research perspective of sociology, this exhibition linked the relationship between patronages and social movement networks. Another major exhibition at the Museum of NTUE, Immortal Youth: A Rediscovery of Taiwanese Art, placed parts of its focus on the time after the 1970s, the starting point for the rise of the gallery industry in Taiwan. With the emergence of middle-class collectors with artistic literacy and enthusiasm, they established good relationships with artists, actively communicated with them, and collected their works. Reviewing the past, the emergence of Taiwan's gallery industry was a continuation of the past, inheriting the development of fine arts during the Japanese occupation period. It took Taiwan’s export-driven economic miracle in the latter half of the 20th century as nourishment and bring Taiwanese art to the next stage.

ART TAIPEI and contemporary art collection changing their directions

In 1992, Art Exhibition of the Republic of China (the predecessor of ART TAIPEI) opened. Continuing to demonstrate Taiwan's local middle class as the main force in art purchase and together with the Taipei Biennale (1996), the exhibition also took on the responsibility of connecting with the overseas art market. Interestingly, after the 1980s, as Taiwan's local consciousness rose, the writing of Taiwan’s art history was also on the ascendant and made the works of more senior Taiwanese artists soar in price. To some extent, this seemed to resonate with the circumstances of the 1930s, a time of art collection and patronage by the landowner class, in their support of Taiwanese artists creating works.

Vincent Fang’s Punk Cat, exhibited by Soka Art at ART TAIPEI 2021

In the 21st century, with the development of the Internet, the concept of "collection" is facing drastic changes. In 2021, NFT (Non-Fungible Token) was successfully sold at ART TAIPEI, which was of historical significance. For example, Punk Cat, a collaboration between Soka Art and Vincent Fang (a renowned songwriter), its exhibition and transaction were constantly the hot topic at the fair. At first glance, NFT impacts the artistic value of the conventional physical collection. However, looking back on the history of the art collection in Taiwan, the digitally encrypted blockchain is merely a virtual extension of the personal collection space.

Nowadays, different social classes and ethnic groups can build their collections in art fairs, exhibitions, and even in markets. They do not have to respond to complex issues such as colonization and ethnicity. Although it would inevitably attract criticism from philistines or comments of commercialization, the happiness and joy behind the action of collection, no matter what era it is, is the truly precious harvest.


Chi-yu Liu, “The List of Taiwanese Artworks Awaiting Rediscovery: A Brief Introduction of Collections of the Public Sector During the Japanese Reign and the Nationalist Government,”Art Accrediting, No. 098, (Kaohsiung: Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Art, 2022.6), 54-67.

Wakabayashi Masahiro, Taiwan Konichi Undoshikenkyu, New Taipei City: Walkers Cultural, 2020.

Chen-ching Lin, “Engraft a Bridge between the National Movement and Fine Arts--On Chao-Chia Yang and Taiwanese Artistic Patronage, ”Journal of National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, No.90, (Taichung: National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, 2012.10), 70-85.